Arizona basketball a talented, inexperienced mystery

SAN FRANCISCO -- To open the preseason, the Arizona Wildcats were voted fifth in the USA Today Coaches Poll and earned 21 of 23 first-place votes in the Pac-12 media poll. And despite the wealth of talent on their roster, its hardly an easy thing for head coach Sean Miller to expect his team to win the conference.

“We're not experienced enough to be head-and-shoulders above the field,” Miller said. “If you come to watch us practice right now, one of the things you feel is we have a lot of new pieces, a lot of newcomers.”

Arizona could start a freshman and two sophomores in the frontcourt this season, and Miller knows that the loss of battle-tested players like Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom could end with a sting.


Big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley played their roles in a single Sweet 16 run during their first collegiate season but are still young. Two of the Pac-12's most important additions from last season to this one, point guard transfer T.J. McConnell and freshman Aaron Gordon, have yet to play a full conference slate or find themselves deep into the postseason.

Only junior shooting guard Nick Johnson falls into the category of experienced.

“You have someone like Nick who can pick that mantle up and hand it to this year's team,” Miller said.

Johnson said he's developing a chemistry with McConnell, who played two seasons at Duquesne and sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. The talent is there for McConnell, a true point guard, to make a big difference after the squad rolled with a scoring point guard in Lyons last season.

“He literally will pass up a layup to get you an open shot,” Johnson said. “It's helped a tremendous amount. I kind of got the sense of where I need to be when he has the ball and stuff like that. On the defensive end, I call him a bulldog. He comes in practice every single day and works so hard.”

[Related: 2013-14 Arizona men's basketball schedule]

Gordon might be the most talented newcomer in the Pac-12, but Miller knows there's a learning curve – even if it's not much of an issue for a player whose work ethic was praised by a majority of the coaches at Thursday's media day.

“We like to say the standards of our program are our standards,” Miller said. “With this year's freshman class, but in particular Aaron Gordon, he's an easy guy to deal with. His greatest gift that he's given his teammates and us is he's an incredibly hard worker. He's a fun guy to have as a teammate.”

Colorado, Oregon, Cal and UCLA are just some of the schools that will be in the hunt to unseat the favorite Wildcats. Miller knows all too well that as many as seven squads could be in the running to win the conference championship.

“I'm very concerned about the early part of our schedule,” Miller said. “I believe in our team, we have a lot of things working for us. One of the things we don't have is experience.”